Student gets second chance in musical after brain tumor

  • Updated: August 10, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Castmates make sure that the leading lady gets her day in the spotlight.


Monica Tipperreiter, seated in center, joins the cast during a rehearsal of “The Secret Garden.”

Photo: Stacey Wescott • Chicago Tribune,

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A week before students were scheduled to perform the musical “The Secret Garden” this spring at Mundelein High School in suburban Chicago, one of the lead actors was missing from rehearsal.

By the end of the evening, classmates were shocked to learn the reason.

Monica Tipperreiter, a senior who excitedly described the character “Lily” as her dream role, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery was scheduled the next day, April 25, the teen’s mother told theater director Jonathan Meier during a phone call.

Within the next few days, the family learned the rare epidermoid tumor was benign — and the theater kids began formulating a plan.

“It was never even a question,” said Josie David, 16, describing the day the students decided to give Monica her spotlight, even if it was a bit later than planned.

“We knew we were going to do it again.”

On a recent Friday, the “Secret Garden” cast repeated the performance that Monica missed in May, allowing her to take the stage as Lily and reuniting the students in the cast, some of whom are headed for college soon.

The show was free, but donations were accepted, with half of the money going to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where Monica was treated.

Debbie Tipperreiter said her daughter sang in choir and performed in plays throughout high school, but this was to be her first leading role in a musical. “I don’t think I had seen her as excited about anything as much as this,” she said.

Monica Tipperreiter, who turned 18 in July, started practicing for the role shortly after the musical was announced in September.

“I was kind of crazy,” said Monica, who was to sing six songs during the show. “Auditions weren’t until February.”

She realized that something was wrong one day in April when she was posting handbills that advertised the show. Her eyes felt funny, but she couldn’t figure out what was wrong, she said. She returned to the school to attend a rehearsal and realized she had double vision whenever she looked down.

“When I started to go down a staircase, there were two of them,” said Monica, whose double vision continued for days. “I blamed it on being tired because I had so much going on. I had two other choir musicals that I was preparing for, and I had prom a week later.”

Monica had coped with debilitating headaches for about two years and saw an optometrist and a pediatrician, who found nothing wrong. When the double vision persisted, her mom brought her to an ophthalmologist, who suggested she have an MRI, just to be safe.

Within an hour of receiving the results, doctors told Debbie Tipperreiter to drive her daughter immediately to Lurie Children’s Hospital. They had spotted a mass in her brain.

“It was a horrible ride,” Debbie Tipperreiter said.

While Mom worried frantically about the health implications, her daughter was unhappy that she had to miss that night’s rehearsal.

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